Not exactly 'Shakespeare in Love'

"They're writing songs of love, but not for me ..." could very well be my own personal anthem, nowadays, that is. This was not the case in the past.

For me, it was a modern day miracle, a Camelot experience of one great shining moment — it was a year, to be precise — when love was in the air, in my thoughts and dreams, when I met my college sweetheart, Jane. That's when I, the old drudge and the most unromantic person on the planet, fell in love. Yes, I tumbled off my perch of pragmatism and practicality.

Cupid's arrow hit its mark. And the word arrow is an accurate and painful metaphor. That arrow hit my heart and ripped apart my psyche. Mine was not a pretty love story. Not at the end, anyway.

I'm a writer, and I know that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Mine wasn't any different. The beginning occurred in our college cafeteria. That's where I first saw Jane — I didn't know her name then — as she seemed to float into the entrance doors and glided as an angel occupying her own celestial-like firmament toward the cafeteria line to select her dinner. Was this lovely creature going to actually dine with us mere mortals?

Oh, I saw her, yes indeed, but surely she took no notice of me. No matter that I was more than 6 feet tall and towered over her whenever she was near to me, I was an emotional shrinking violet. Because of my inherent shyness, my mom was often my cheerleader. "Faint heart never won a fair lady," Mom, forever quoting Shakespeare, reminded me time and again.

Shakespearean aphorisms did wonders to boost my confidence. That is, until the lovely Jane entered the room. Suddenly, I was tongue-tied. Ordinarily loquacious among my friends at dinner, whenever Jane joined our group — and eventually, she did — I was at a complete loss for words. In an instant, I became as dull as a ton of bricks.

Hey, Shakespeare! Where was he when I needed him?

I longed to conjure up a pithy saying; perhaps a romantic sonnet or two."Should I compare thee to a summer's day ...?" Ah, yes. That line eventually came to mind, later, much later. Where was it in an emergency? My brain cells didn't function properly. My gray matter was gray indeed. Nevertheless, I continued seeing Jane at dinner, and she and her friends continued to sit at the same dining table with me and my friends. And she — bless her — continued to laugh at my lame witticisms. In fact, she seemed to laugh with me and not at me.

Although tongue-tied and inarticulate initially, I became emboldened over my dinner plate. Perhaps the way to a man's heart really is through his stomach. Although I might have worn my heart on my sleeve, because of my nervousness, not a small amount of spattered spaghetti sauce ended up on my lapels and tie. (At Cumberland College, we dressed for dinner.)

Despite Shakespeare's line in "Hamlet," "to thine own self be true," I bent the rules of my honesty. And I did so on our very first date. I took Jane to a basketball game — a sporting event of all things. I wasn't the least bit interested in sports and I didn’t know the slightest thing about basketball. Nevertheless, there I was seated in the first row shouting out cheers whenever the rest of the spectators did and booing when the opposing team scored. I jumped up, sat down and cheered at what seemed to be the appropriate times, never admitting that I didn't have a clue about what was happening.

All that great play-acting was for Jane. At least, that's what I told myself. Looking back, I imagine she knew my actions were just a sham. I never admitted to myself that I had been anything but completely forthright. Later on, however, I found Jane's little white lies glaringly obvious.

One of the principle flaws of Jane's and my relationship was that it was not realistic or equitable. She was a popular girl with a wonderful personality; she oozed feminine charm. Me? I lacked charm and was certain I was dull as dishwater. How could she be attracted to me? Pity? Surely, I didn't deserve her. That this cute, vivacious redhead gave me even a minute of her time was a stroke of luck on my part. I was grateful, too grateful. Therefore, whenever I caught her in one of her little white lies, I stifled my disapproval and looked the other way.

Ours was indeed a rocky road to love. I liked a narrow, straight course. Jane preferred a winding road, with mood changes and detours along the way. She adored having lovers' quarrels with intermittent times of joyous reconciliation. At times, we hated each other; other times, we were blissfully in love. It was forgive and forget. As the Bard himself wrote, "the quality of forgiveness is not strained. It dropeth as the gentle rain from heaven."

We kissed and made up, but it didn't last. Eventually, a year and a half of continual warring took its toll. The problem with Jane and me, well, at least, one of them, was that we were madly in love but, the truth be known, we didn't really like each other.

My cousin, Phillip, and his wife remain the best of friends after more than 50 years of marriage. That's what I wanted with Jane, but it was not meant to be. In too many ways, we were not compatible.

Eventually, I wrote a Dear Jane letter, and that was the end of our shaky romance. Yes, I rather cowardly wrote Jane a letter and didn't talk to her face-to-face. Yes, I dropped her like a hot potato — or did she drop me? Did she lose me, or did I lose her? That was a riddle.

Either way, I had no regrets for our sometimes tumultuous relationship. True, when it was bad it was bad, but when it was good it was really good. No regrets. That's what I kept telling myself.

After all, it was Shakespeare who wrote, "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Whipple, a Williamsburg writer, has published several books.

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